Review by discoinferno84
"I had to find the passage back to the place I was before..."
Luso Clemens has a problem. Several, actually. Thanks to his inability to sit still, he's earned the ire of every parent and teacher who's ever had to deal with him. He's been tardy and disruptive so many times that he's earned himself a detention on the last day of class. Given his insatiable curiosity and short attention span, it's surprising that he can even make it to the library to serve his punishment. It's not like he spends his detention sitting around in quiet remorse over his blunders, either; he nabs the nearest book and frantically thumbs through it in a desperate search for entertainment. A horribly cliched plot twist and a bright flash of light later, Luso finds himself in the wilderness of Ivalice. About to be eaten by a gigantic chicken monster, he makes the first of many right choices: he joins a clan of warriors and begins his quest to return home.
It has the makings of a great (if not slightly generic) story: annoying brat learns the importance of responsibility by suffering through hundreds of battles and challenging evildoers. The theme of searching for one's home and personal identity come into play as well. The problem is that such aspects are never developed to their full potential; aside from a few wise words of advice towards the end of the game, there isn't much that does the plot any justice. Stumbling into an alternate dimension full of monsters doesn't faze Luso at all; with little hope of figuring out how to get home, he uses the clan's adventures as a distraction from his problems. It's easy to forget his situation, given how there's a crime syndicate corrupting the country and a conspiracy that could lead to the downfall of Ivalice. Even the two supporting characters get better character development than our child warrior. By the time you've plowed through the thirty-something story missions, you'll be left wanting more.
But given the sheer amount of battles you'll have to win, it's fairly easy to forget the plot anyway. Despite its rich trade economy and magical technology, Ivalice uses tactical combat as a popular pastime. With a handful of recruited warriors backing him up, Luso will have to face rival clans and random monsters in turn-based combat. The fights revolve around the usual grid-based movement system found in most tactics games; you place your characters on the square panels on the battlefield, and then move them around based on the range of their attacks, mobility stats, limitations of the terrain, etc. While the fixed isometric camera can make crowded battlefields occasionally difficult to navigate, your characters' movement and attack ranges are always highlighted. The straightforward presentation of the battlefield ensures that even the most inept of gamers will be able to see what's going on.
Besides, it's the law system that'll require most of your attention. As with its predecessor, Final Fantasy Tactics A2 uses a set of rules that restricts your strategies and forces you to improvise. It could be something simple, like being forbidden to use swords or restricting certain characters from performing more than basic attacks. Or it could be something utterly inane, like forcing you to move your characters to move exactly three panels per turn, or dishing out less than a predetermined amount of damage. Regardless of how stupid some of these laws are, they act as a test for your team's versatility; if your strategy revolves heavily on whatever happens to be prohibited, you're going to have to figure out a way around it. Of course, you don't have to uphold the law. Compared to the punishments in previous game, you'll only get a slap on the wrist for your criminal activities. You'll just lose whatever pre-fight stat bonus you chose, some victory swag, and the ability to revive KOed characters in battle. If you're confident in your team's ability to win, there's nothing stopping you from using your desired tactics.
That does not mean, however, that you can slack off when it comes to developing your clan. Success in this game isn't just based on how much you've leveled your characters, but what abilities you've had them learn. The majority of the weapons, armors, and accessories come with their own unique abilities that can be mastered if you gain enough experience points in battle. Using a certain sword can grant the character the ability to dual wield weapons, while others can negate status effects, provide supplemental powers, or provide more effective means to take out certain enemies. Once you've learned enough abilities, you'll unlock more powerful character classes and their respective movelist. Thus the real strategy of the game is based on how you mix and match the abilities to create the most effective combinations to suit your playing style. Given how long it takes to acquire enough experience to learn some of these jobs, it'll take quite a while before your ideal team will be perfected.
It's easy to take shortcuts, though. With random battles and hundreds of side missions available at different points of the game, there will be plenty of opportunities to develop your characters. Since you can dispatch lone characters or small groups to take care of some missions, it's easy to rack up experience points and your parties quickly. Given how the story missions ignore the power-leveling you might do, it's possible to finish Luso's main quest while being twenty or even thirty levels over what you're supposed to be. If you spend your time amassing a huge collection of post-battle prizes, you can use them to make unique items in the various bazaars throughout Ivalice. There's even a simple auction system that can grant you even more item bonuses and random encounters. Since there are so many ways to easily acquire get money and craft items, it won't take long to find whatever weapons or equipment you need to develop your perfect team. Such easy access is balanced out by the ridiculously slow-paced battles and high leveling requirements, however. Making an ideal doesn't take a lot of effort, but requires hours of play time.
While the sheer amount of gameplay required to finish the story adds to the game's longevity, there isn't much in terms of multiplayer action. There may be hundreds of missions to complete, dozens of character classes to master, and a countless array of items to find, but you won't get a chance to pit your best creations against other gamers. There are no online multiplayer options, which cripples its replayability when compared to other DS tactics games like Days of Ruin. Never mind challenging other gamers in battle; there is nothing in terms of downloading extra missions, bonus items, and plenty of other stuff that could make the game so much more than an extended single-player crusade. The only saving grace comes in the form of an item trade system via the wireless local option. While that enables some interactivity between gamers, it hardly lives up to what the multiplayer could have been.
The presentation isn't exactly ideal, either. Rather than creating an entirely new game, Square-Enix decided to use most of the sprites from Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. It's an understandable choice, but it hardly shows what the DS can do in terms of graphics. New classes aside, you're still treated to the same assortment of pixilated mages, assassins, gladiators, and whatever else veterans of the previous game might recognize. Though fighting through cobblestone town streets or in the ruins of some castle might sound fun, none of the settings are particularly impressive. The only significant jump in graphics comes with the attacks; elemental spells are depicted with plenty of flashy animations and bright colors. You'll eventually gain access to some higher-level summons, which are depicted with highly detailed designs spanning across both of the handheld's screens. A hulking monstrosity bury the battlefield under the blade of his skyscraper-sized sword is definitely worth seeing. However, the top screen is wasted throughout much of the game; it only displays the order of characters' turns, KOed party members, or the current law in effect. Though it is somewhat helpful, it comes off as some feature that was tacked on at the last minute.
That doesn't mean that Final Fantasy Tactics A2 is a bad game. Far from it; it's one of the best single-player games on the DS. Though the story and characters are terrible, it'll take you several hours to complete the main quest. That aside, you'll have hundreds of secondary quests, tons of jobs to master, and massive collection of items and abilities to acquire. Fiddling around with your characters' moves and strategically developing your party can be a rewarding experience. While the law system from the previous game is still around, it is far less annoying. Despite having a ton of stuff to do, the game's lack of online features or multiplayer options kills much of its potential. The underutilized DS features don't help matters much, either. But hey, you've still got one of the most extensive and long-lasting tactics games available on the system. That's got to count for something.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/21/08
Game Release: Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift (US, 06/24/08)
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